I’ve been in this business, in some capacity, for about twelve years. Occasionally someone will ask me what the hardest part of the job is. The markets? Nope. The day to day grind of being an entrepreneur? No. The constant noise from the media telling me the sky is falling? That’s not it either. Trying to grow my client base? No way.

It’s when a client that I’ve worked with for a long time passes away.

I’m not even sure there’s a number two in this category.

Sure I get beaten down by the daily grind from time to time. Who doesn’t? It takes a lot of energy to hold client meetings, prepare for said client meetings, research investments, complete in-depth financial planning, handle client service issues, keep my corporate books in order, etc.

When a longtime client passes away, it takes a toll on me for quite a while. It’s because after a period of time, many of my clients turn into friends, rather than just clients. When I first started, they told me this would happen. I sort of understood back then what they were talking about, but I didn’t truly get it until a few years ago.

A few weeks ago, I was on my first true, week-long family vacation. It’s tough to take a vacation with a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and twin three-year-olds, ya know? I got an email that a long-time client had passed away. Let’s call him Mr. Z. He was seventy-two and had battled pancreatic cancer for about four years. Last time I spoke with him, which was a few weeks prior to his passing, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn’t have much longer.

Last week I went to the visitation and funeral. I’m a pretty talkative and outgoing person, but I never know what to say at these things. I mean, what can any of us say other than to offer our condolences?

There were two things that struck me while I was there.

First, when I got to the family after waiting in line, Mrs. Z (the widow) and I talked for a minute, and then she looked her kids (who are around my age) and said, “Hey everyone, this is Rockie,” with a bit of excitement. The smile on the faces of her kids, and the phrases like, “Oh so you’re Rockie,” they uttered with sincerity nearly made me come unglued right then and there.

Here’s what struck me at that moment: whether we realize it or not, if we’re doing this job right, we have a real impact on our clients’ lives. As financial planners, we should not take this lightly. At least I’m not going to ever again. This is a really cool part of this job. Yes, we can help folks save money on taxes, increase their dividends, or help them decide when to take Social Security. That’s fine and all, but if we’re really doing this financial planner thing right, we also develop friendships beyond numbers on a chart. It really sank in that day, how meaningful the relationships with our clients can be. For both parties involved.

Secondly, after the service was over, I went back into the gathering area to look over all the pictures and remembrances the family had brought. There was also a TV monitor cycling through pictures of Mr. Z and his family. Pictures of vacations, trips, family dinners, graduations, birthdays.

When I left, I kept thinking to myself, When it’s all said and done, that’s what’s left. The memories. Memories worthy of taking pictures of. Not just the special vacations taken, but also the seemingly routine stuff like birthday parties, that at the time, seem fairly normal. However, in thirty years those pictures and videos will be a big deal to look back on.

My kids are six, four, three and three. Their entire lives, my wife and I have had this wonderful device called an iPhone. It takes amazing pictures and videos. Just this morning, in fact, we opened this app called TimeHop which brings up pictures and vides from years past.

My hope for all of us is that we live lives so full of amazing memories that our ‘screens’ will be filled to the brim with pictures and videos. It appeared to me that Mr. Z had done just that, and that made me happy. The turnout for the service was incredible. The pastor’s message was fantastic. Mr. Z’s granddaughter brought the congregation to tears with a wonderful violin rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’.

It was a delightful service, and I believe Mr. Z loved it.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Z family. I hope they all realize that Mr. Z lived a great life. I hope they realize that he strengthened his relationship with the Lord during his darkest hours. I hope they realize how much of an impact he had on people like me, ancillary people in his life.

Rest in peace Mr. Z. You are going to be missed down here by a lot of people, myself included. I can’t thank you enough for all of your support and friendship over the last ten plus years. You will never be forgotten.  

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